Daniel E. Greene: Be An Artist First
Daniel Greene has long been regarded as the foremost pastelist in the United States. We recently spoke during the last winter storm and I hope sharing our conversation will stimulate and encourage you on your artistic journey.
Egnoski: Can you tell us what first inspired you to become an artist and where do you find your inspiration today?
Greene: I have known that I was going to be an artist since I was five years old. As a child, I had a knack for drawing and I knew from an early age what I would do with my life. My alternative choice however was to be a professional baseball player, but when I was seventeen, I decided that was not the course that I would take. Some of the skills and disciplines involved with sports are quite applicable in the development of paintings.
My inspiration comes from many sources that can be translated into paint. Much of the inspiration has to do with manipulating the fundamentals of art and the constant challenges of the vocabulary of painting.
Egnoski: Can you discuss what your experience was like during your early art education years? Did you study under the tutelage of a master artist?
Greene: I entered Robert Brackman’s evening class at the Art Students League in 1954 as an inexperienced student. Brackman apparently saw promise and was extremely supportive and encouraging. I felt that he instilled confidence in me and my not yet developed talent. This positive attention helped me while I was learning. In later years, I took over Brackman’s classes at the Art Students League and served with him on the board at the National Academy of Design. He treated me as an equal and was humble when I attempted to thank him for his help. He served as my mentor and model of what an artist could be and I owe him an enormous debt. Egnoski: How would you describe your style?
Greene: I would describe it as an effort to replicate a moment in time realistically and to try to employ many of the ingredients that I consider to be fundamentally essential to producing paintings that have meaning to me personally on many different levels. So, my style is Representational, with perhaps an emphasis that references many of the time-honored ingredients that the great painters of the past have employed and I'm trying to incorporate my version of these fundamental characteristics of painting in a manner I particularly appreciate.
Egnoski: Your series of paintings such as the subways, auctions or the carnivals have been very well received, how and why did you select these specific themes?
Greene: The admonition “paint what you know” led me to re-exploring familiar subjects - subways, auctions and carnivals. All of these subjects are a part of my visual experience. I lived in New York City for 25 years before moving to North Salem which is 50 miles outside of the city, and one cannot help but be influenced by the immediate environment of the metropolis that is as exciting as New York City. I started riding the subways in 1953 when I moved to New York City to attend The Art Students League. While riding, I couldn't help noticing the beautiful mosaics that appeared in the stations that are part of the subway system.
One day, I observed a couple sitting together in front of one of the mosaics at a station and I thought to myself, “that would make an interesting painting.” I didn't act on it at that time. But then 40 something years later, I went back to the subway to collect information for that particular painting that I had been thinking about doing for so many years. I found to my surprise that there was a mass of material. There were dozens upon dozens of stations that had beautiful mosaics and that the possibilities for interesting paintings and intricate mosaics was endless. So, I began doing the painting I intended to do with several figures and then I continued to do other subjects in the subway because it was all so dramatic. To date, I have now done 121 paintings of subway settings. In regard to the carnival games, that's based on my childhood in Cincinnati. On festive occasions, my parents would take me and my sister to Cincinnati’s Coney Island. I was fascinated by the carnival games people were playing, it was all very picturesque. I retained that memory and when I became a practicing artist I decided to explore themes from my childhood. It immediately occurred to me that carnivals and fairs were fascinating, colorful subjects and so I began to do paintings in my studio on themes that were suggested by these childhood experiences.
The auction series came about because my wife and I long have enjoyed collecting antiques. Through the years we have frequently gone to auctions in the city. Some of the events are extraordinarily dramatic with people vying to purchase some marvelous objects that come up for auction. There's a great deal of tension and drama that is immediately present at auctions. These paintings combine two enjoyable areas for me, one is painting portraits of people in an exciting dramatic situation and the other is painting still life objects like those that can be found at auctions. To date, I've done about 40 paintings of auction subjects and that also is a never-ending source of dramatic figure painting opportunities coupled with beautiful artifacts. Egnoski: Composition is the key to engaging and holding the attention of the viewer. What advise can you give to artists as to how they can approach compositional arrangement for painting success?
Greene: Becoming familiar with some of the considerations of composition, i.e. balance, size, shape, asymmetrical design, contrast, value, color and arranging these elements in relation to one’s own sense of design may be a starting point for abstract shape resolution.
Egnoski: If you could sit with your students to reflect on your teaching, what would you like most to have them know about what has been most valuable for you to have learned and how to keep on learning?
Greene: The necessity of obtaining and excelling in all of the fundamental skills of painting in order to have a foundation upon which to create original works that incorporate the vocabulary of painting.
Egnoski: Building drawing skills is generally the first step a student takes in becoming a representational artist and is the key to a paintings success. Could you elaborate on how critical this skill is for the artistic journey?
Greene: Developing drawing skill is an initial ability that permeates everything in classical and representative painting. Without this skill, one is dependent upon artificial means of drawing and is lacking in the dominance of subject that accurate drawing provides. Egnoski: As a faculty artist this year, what are you passionate about that you would like to share with fellow artists that may help them make a breakthrough in their own work?
Greene: I am planning on sharing my analysis of color and color harmony in a break out program. I have observed underlying principles of color that I am planning on imparting to others in the hopes of helping artists improve their understanding of this fundamental painting ingredient. Topics will include why colors harmonize or why they clash, the misconception of warm colors advancing and cool colors receding – aerial perspective and the old masters two color palettes.
I wanted to mention that a new book, “Daniel E. Greene, Studios and Subways, An American Master, His Life and Art” has just been published and will be available to be personally signed at the Portrait Society’s annual conference, The Art of the Portrait being held April 19-22, 2018. The book includes early works, Portraits, Subway and Carnival paintings as well as Mr. Greene’s technical process and biographical information.